Local Arts

Obvious cool, and hidden cool, highlights abound in the new Charlotte arts season

Cool local arts performances in the 2019-20 season

Lawrence Toppman, a veteran Observer arts correspondent, shares some shows and events he's looking forward to seeing.
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Lawrence Toppman, a veteran Observer arts correspondent, shares some shows and events he's looking forward to seeing.

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Charlotte Arts Guide 2019-20

Here’s all of our stories on the new arts season. We’ll introduce you to the diverse group of people making vital contributions to the arts. You’ll find them in museums, on stage, in studios and even outdoors. And you’ll get our calendar listings for theater, dance, music, museums, literary events and visual arts.

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You don’t have to be told to go to “My Fair Lady” when the national tour reaches Charlotte in January, do you? It has one of the most memorable scores in theater history. Director Bartlett Sher had already brilliantly reinvented the classic musicals “South Pacific” and “The King and I” when he earned a Tony nomination for updating “Lady,” giving Eliza Doolittle a stronger voice as the flower girl who becomes a metaphoric princess.

That’s cool, if obvious.

But what about a show like “The New Colossus,” which tells the story of 12 refugees from 12 lands making their way to America while speaking 12 different languages? As immigration becomes even more of a hot-button issue, this touring production by The Actors’ Gang arrives the following week in the PNC Broadway Lights series with less fanfare.

That’s also cool, if perhaps hidden.

As you peruse the performing arts listings in this fall arts preview, likely winners will quickly claim your attention. If you look a little further, you’ll find potential gems that don’t leap out at you as readily. This essay is meant to get you thinking about a dozen, half of them obvious and half of them hidden.

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Charlotte Ballet artistic director Hope Muir will narrate a family-friendly version of “Sleeping Beauty” on March 13-22. Diedra Laird dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Obvious cool: Dazzling as it is in Marius Petipa’s 19th-century choreography, Tchaikovsky’s three-hour “Sleeping Beauty” can be a drowsy afternoon for youngsters. Charlotte Ballet has hired British choreographer Matthew Hart to create a family-friendly version that runs half that time and uses a narrator (artistic director Hope Muir) to keep everyone on the same page.

Hidden cool: How can you hear members of the Vienna Philharmonic and Berlin Philharmonic play together? At “Philharmonix: The Vienna Berlin Music Club,” where members of those orchestras team for classical, jazz, klezmer, Latin, and pop music. This show, which includes an improvising violinist, is the Charlotte Concerts legacy concert in the new Arts at Queens series.

Members of the Vienna Philharmonic and Berlin Philharmonic play together as “Philharmonix: The Vienna Berlin Music Club.” This show, which includes an improvising violinist, is the Charlotte Concerts legacy concert in the new Arts at Queens series.

Obvious cool: Children’s Theatre of Charlotte now usually opens its fall season with a splashy, full-length musical, and “Peter Pan” satisfies this tradition. This version uses the score for the 1954 Broadway show, featuring “Neverland,” “I’ve Gotta Crow” and “I Won’t Grow Up,” and it’ll be done in two acts with an intermission. Naturally, many actors will go blissfully aloft.

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On Nov. 1, Three Bone Theatre is performing the world premiere of “Protective Custody PRISONER: 34042,” an adaptation of Susan Cernyak-Spatz’s memoirs of surviving Holocaust death camps as a teenager. Courtesy of Three Bone Theatre

Hidden cool: Susan Cernyak-Spatz survived Holocaust death camps as a teenager and wrote about her experiences. Now writer Charles LaBorde and director Dennis Delamar have adapted her autobiography into a play titled “Protective Custody PRISONER: 34042,” and the envelope-pushing Three Bone Theatre will produce the world premiere.

Obvious cool: When you call a concert “Tchaikovsky’s Greatest Hits,” as the Charlotte Symphony does its season-opener, you’d better pick wisely. The CSO chose the Symphony No. 5, Capriccio Italien and the Piano Concerto No. 1. Its smartest move was to get still-underrated Inon Barnatan as the concerto’s sensitive soloist.

Hidden cool: Only one place has free professional chamber music, packed with pieces famous (Dvorak’s Piano Quintet No. 2) and unknown (Toru Takemitsu’s “Between Tides”), often in the same concert. The Providence Chamber Music Series, held in the sanctuary of Providence United Methodist Church, offers symphony musicians and others playing what they love.

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Billie Holiday, in 1958. Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte will present the local premiere of “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” about Holiday’s performance a few months before she died in 1959. AP Photo/FILE

Obvious cool: Four months before she died in 1959, Billie Holiday did a show at a rundown Philadelphia club. “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” a remarkable showcase for a singer-actress, captures that unhappy night, as she reminisces about addictions, the law, her troubled childhood, men and other mishaps. Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte produces the local premiere.

Hidden cool: Charlotte’s lucky to have two strong monthly jazz series, The Jazz Room at Stage Door Theater (run by Jazz Arts Charlotte) and Jazz at the Bechtler (run by the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art). This fall, for instance, you can hear a “Trumpet Summit” of top Southeastern horn players at the former and composer-trombonist Chris Brubeck with a combo at the latter.

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“Trumpet Summit,” on Sept. 20-21, with five trumpeters performing jazz classics is among the offerings from The Jazz Room at Stage Door Theater. Courtesy of Phillip Hoffman

Obvious cool: Could “La Boheme” be the most popular opera in the world? It’s probably the most accessible, especially for newcomers: It runs less than two hours, Puccini’s flow of ingratiating melodies never dries up and the tragedy of four lovers who can’t overcome their pride and stubbornness always earns your tears. Opera Carolina revives it this season.

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In the Opera Carolina production of La Boheme, the role of Mimi will be performed by soprano Stefanna Kybalova, who was born in Bulgaria. Courtesy of Opera Carolina

Hidden cool: The former Charlotte Symphony chorus has reinvented itself as Charlotte Master Chorale and set up a season of music that ranges from Felix Mendelssohn’s spooky “The First Walpurgisnacht” (pitting pagans against early Christians) to Carl Orff’s savage “Carmina Burana.” Or how about “Unity Concert: African-American Spirituals” for Black History Month?

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The former Charlotte Symphony chorus is now the Charlotte Master Chorale, kicking off its season Sept. 21-22 with “Considering Matthew Shepard.” Charlotte Symphony

Obvious cool: There are only a few perfect comedies, and “The Odd Couple” is among them. Theatre Charlotte honors Neil Simon (who died in August 2018) with this Tony-winning comedy, in which a finicky guy separated from his wife moves in with a divorced slob of a sports writer. This is why community theater exists: To do shows that challenge actors and engage audiences.

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Tim Rice in 1988 on Broadway, in front of the Imperial Theater where his musical “Chess” was briefly playing. CPCC Theatre is staging the show Feb. 14-23. AP Photo/Marty Reichenthal

Hidden cool: People have tried unsuccessfully for 35 years to stage “Chess.” (A 1988 Broadway run ended after two months.) Yet the concept album by Tim Rice and ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson has an extraordinary rock score, so perhaps CPCC Theatre will triumph with this story of American and Russian grandmasters battling for a woman and a championship.

This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.

More arts coverage

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